MEMPHIS CURRENT ISSUE no3
Memphis Current joins Outdoors Inc. founder Joe Royer for a cycling trip across the Mississippi.
Across the River, our neighbors in Crittenden County are working with Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation to create a space for cyclists, joggers, photographers and nature-enthusiasts alike. Bordering the western banks of the Mississippi River, directly adjacent to the Memphis skyline, the Big River Park is a sprawling scene of gravel roads, flood plains and gorgeous river views. The park's gravel paths are marked with large granite stones that were reclaimed from the Frisco Bridge's original bridge support columns, which have since been reconstructed. Though the park is in early stages of development, founder of Outdoors Inc. Joe Royer and his wife Carol Lee understand the unrivaled potential the park has for Memphians across the river.
"This is the coolest thing that's happening to Memphis since Shelby Farms and the Memphis Riverfront Parks," claims Joe. "We're getting the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation to support this. Even though it's in Arkansas, Memphis is still going to be the benefactor. West Memphis and Crittenden County need to be given a major shout out of appreciation. They're thinking futuristically. It's phenomenal."
The Big River Park is accessible by foot or by bicycle over the Big River Crossing on the Harahan Bridge, or by taking your first exit off I-55 by car. The park rests squarely in the Arkansas flood plains and is currently used by cyclists and joggers in the know, but is also home to a variety of flora and fauna.
"The park will be constructed with flooding in mind. It floods, but that is a part of the natural environment. The park sits between the river and the West Memphis levee, so this is going to flood," explains Joe. "But when the river recedes, the wildflowers will explode. It's going to be absolutely gorgeous."
"In other words, this is meant to flood. They know it's going to flood. So they're designing it to make sure that it is sustained after the flood," adds Carol Lee.
The Organizations behind the park plan to beautify and improve infrastructure, while still highlighting the natural beauty of the area. Recently the park was rebranded from The Delta Regional River Park to Big River Park, complementing the walking bridge that provides access to Memphis pedestrians. "You're Already seeing people over here. The runners and cyclists," says Joe.
The timing of the park conveniently corresponds to a growing trend in international cyclist: gravel road biking. "It's not intimidating. You can still be in the dirt, but you're not facing the scary mountain bike trails," explains Joe. "We live in the city, but we seek a little dirt. We wash our hands when we get home, but it's fun to get a little dirt underneath our fingernails."
The trend can be seen in the Dirty Kanza 200, a 200-mile race located in Emporia, Kansas. Thirteen years ago, only 34 riders competed. Today, thousands enter a selective lottery with hopes of being among the 2,500 competitors, a testament to the newfound popularity of gravel cycling.
However, the benefits of the park go far beyond cycling.
"It's going to be fantastic for downtown Memphis, which is turning into a great community for those looking for a healthy, active lifestyle," Says Joe. "Parks complement the art community. They complement the music community. They compliment the intellectual community. I think we can use this park for rich delta farmland, exercise, and for photographers, artists and writers." The Royers are strong proponents of Memphis embracing its own identity, beyond blues, barbecue and basketball. By being environmentally proactive and utilizing our natural areas, Memphis can help retain and attract young natural talent. Thus, continuing to grow culturally, economically and socially.
"It's who we are," says Joe. "We are the Delta. We are the Mississippi River. The Rocky Mountains are wonderful. Bluegrass is wonderful, but we are the blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll. This park couldn't be more local."